Gracious Cleansing of Israel’s Infidelity (Hosea 2:19-20)

Wedding bells are ringing here at the end of Hosea 2.  The divorce language which appeared in verse 2 (“she is not my wife, and I am not her husband”), has been reversed by God in v. 16 (“And in that day, declares the LORD, you will call me ‘My Husband,’…”).  Their judgment, which began in 722 B.C. with the fall of Samaria and continues today, will be intensified during the tribulation period until all those who are remaining at the end of that time will “look upon him whom they have pierced” (Zech. 12:10) and mourn in repentance and thus “all Israel will be saved” (Romans 11:29).

So Hosea 2 ends with these beautiful words, words of reconciliation and blessing…

19 And I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy. 20 I will betroth you to me in faithfulness. And you shall know the LORD. 21 “And in that day I will answer, declares the LORD, I will answer the heavens, and they shall answer the earth, 22 and the earth shall answer the grain, the wine, and the oil, and they shall answer Jezreel, 23 and I will sow her for myself in the land. And I will have mercy on No Mercy, and I will say to Not My People, ‘You are my people’; and he shall say, ‘You are my God.'”

These words fulfill the Abrahamic covenant.  God will keep His promises to the children of Abraham.  Notice once again the repetitive “I wills” in this passage.  Though Israel is faithless, He remains faithful.

This reminds me of the new covenant promise in 2 Timothy 2:13

if we are faithless, he remains faithful–for he cannot deny himself.

The address now turns from “them” (the animals and nations, in v. 18) to “you,” marking Yahweh’s personal assurances to Israel.

David Hubbard notes that the language of vv. 19-20 is legal and contractual in nature.  The word “betroth” is much more formal than “go, take” (1:2), or “go, love” (3:1) or even “I will speak tenderly” and “she shall answer” (2:14-15).  It goes beyond the courtship of verse 14 to make a formal commitment.

It is not a simple business contract, nor a treaty between nations, which requires no love at all.  It is not the reestablishment of the covenant rights of Israel, but rather the beginning of a love relationship between Yahweh and His people such as they had never known before.  It is the new covenant.

In Israelite marriages “betroth” would involve negotiations with parents or their representatives (2 Samuel 3:12-15), including settlement of the proper bride-price which the suitor would pay to the bride’s family (2 Samuel 3:14).  An interval of time would pass between the betrothal and the consummation of the relationship (Deut. 20:7; 28:30), but in that interval she is considered to belong officially to the intended (Deut. 22:23-27) and to belong to him for life (as the “forever” in Hosea 2:19 should be interpreted).

The Lord is promising you that the union is unbreakable. As He said in the days of His flesh: “And I give to them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand” (John 10:28).

Jeremiah Burroughs put it this way: “The bond of union in a believer runs through Jesus Christ, is fastened upon God, and His Spirit holds the other end of it so that it can never be broken.”  Therefore, when the Devil whispers, “You’ve really done it now.  That’s it.  It’s all over!,” take these precious divine words and rebuke him with them, “I will betroth you to me for ever.”

The intensity of Yahweh’s strong intention and deep desire to betroth Israel to himself is conveyed by Hosea’s triple use of this term in vv. 19-20.  Though Israel had rendered herself totally unworthy of even Yahweh’s attention, yet He declares that He would treat them as if their adulteries had never happened.

It would be as though Yahweh and Israel began life anew as husband and wife.  They would return to the courtship days and start again as an engaged couple.

Grammatically, the five nouns mentioned in vv. 19-20 (“I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness.”) could be considered the bride-price paid by Yahweh for his bride.  Some would add “forever” from verse 19 as indicating another attribute—God’s eternality.

However, this obligation and the marriage metaphor cannot be pressed.  Yahweh does not pay this to any “father” because He is Israel’s only parent, as Hosea 11:1 reminds them.

This, of course, reminds us new covenant believers that a price was paid for us to become the “bride of Christ.”  Mark 10:45 says…

“For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

David Hubbard says…

What these words do depict is everything that Yahweh brings to the relationship, all the attributes which make for a covenant stamped by loyalty and integrity and love.  Without reserve, in the fullness of who He has shown himself to be, he renews His permanent commitment to His bride. (Hosea, p. 95)

These attributes come only from the Lord (Ex. 34:6–7) and are precisely what Israel desperately lacks.  The indissolubility of this marriage bond is guaranteed by each of these divine characteristics.

Ladies, this should be a reminder to you that the most important thing you can look for in a husband is not his good looks, his sex appeal, his educational level or his earning potential, but his character.  Look for a man with these qualities.  Cultivate these qualities yourself.

Derek Kidner asks, “Are these the qualities which God will bring to His side of the marriage, or those that He will implant in us, His people?”  His answer is “surely both.”  Israel had certainly lacked these qualities, and that is what led to the failure of their relationship in the first place.

The New Covenant, promised in Ezekiel 36 and Jeremiah 31, indicate that these qualities are not only the character qualities that God will bring to this relationship, but qualities that Israel (and us) will have because He will give us His Spirit, who will move us to obeying the law, thus producing these qualities.

“Righteousness” and “justice” are the first pair of attributes (cf. Amos 5:7, 24; 6:12).

“Righteousness” describes Yahweh’s commitment to be all that His covenant role as Sovereign and Savior demands and to relate to her in strength, loyalty and uprightness in all His dealing swith her.

The Hebrew word sedeq points to the straightness of God’s own character (Job 36:3), His administration of justice (Jere. 11:20) and He rescue from enemy attack (Psalm 35:24, 28).

Derek Kidner says, “God’s righteousness is creative, stepping in to put the very worst things right” (Hosea, p. 35) and notes that it is often paired with “salvation” or “deliverance” (e.g., Isa. 51:5-8; Psalm 98:2).

So, in every sense, righteousness is a gift from God; and never more so than when it means His bestowing of acceptance and acquittal on us; or in Paul’s expression, “justification.”

As Martin Luther discovered, we naturally think of God’s righteousness as the moral quality that we must achieve if we are to have a relationship with God.  It was for this reason that Luther hated both righteousness and God.  But he says that meditating on Romans 1:17, “I began to understand that ‘righteousness of God’ as that by which the righteous lives by the gift of God, namely by faith, and this sentence, “the righteousness of God is revealed” to refer to a passive righteousness, by which the merciful God justifies us by faith.”

In other words, righteousness was no longer a goal to be achieved, but a gift to be received.

David Murray says…

Though you specialize in unrighteousness, He specializes in righteousness.  Let His righteousness be your comfort, not your terror.  As He betroths you to Him, He clothes you in pristine, pure, divine righteousness.  He sees no spot in you.

The second quality Yahweh will bring to this new relationship is “justice.”  It means “the ruling of a judge.”  While human judgments may be shallow and even unfair, God’s justice is “like the depths of the sea” (Psalm 36:6, GNB)—vast, profound and inexhaustible in wisdom.

According to David Hubbard:

Justice centres in Yahweh’s fairness in all his relationships to his people, as he honours their obedience and corrects their waywardness, without whimsy or arbitrariness.

We prefer that people be just with us—making decisions for our good, compassionately tending to our grievances and pains.

Abraham, when interceding for the people of sin-filled Sodom and Gomorrah, asked,

25 Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked!  Far be that from you!  Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?”

We all have a sense of justice, but it is nothing like God’s justice.  He always does what is right and equitable, even when it doesn’t seem like it.  J. I. Packer, in his wonderful book on God’s attributes, Knowing God, says…

“…God’s work as Judge is part of His character… It shows us also that the heart of the justice which expresses God’s nature is retribution, the rendering to men, what they have deserved; for this is the essence of the judge’s task. To reward good with good, and evil with evil, is natural to God. So, when the New Testament speaks of the final judgment, it always represents it in terms of retribution. God will judge all men, it says, ‘according to their works’ (Matthew 16:27; Revelation 20:12f).”

Some believe that God’s justice is cruel and unfair.  The alternative they propose, not to judge the world, makes God out to be morally indifferent. To counter them, Packer asks, “Would a God who did not care about the difference between wrong and right be a good and admirable Being?”  I don’t think so.

“Steadfast love” and “mercy” form the second pair of attributes that God brings to the relationship and then forms in us by the Spirit’s work in our lives.

You know how, after many years of marriage, a couple can begin to somewhat look alike, or at least act alike?  This is what happens in our relationship with God, the more exposure to Him makes us more and more like Him.

These two qualities, “steadfast love” and “mercy,” express the strong internal affection from which the former (righteousness and justice) should proceed, and the high degree of interest which God would take in His recovered people.

“Steadfast love,” the Hebrew word hesed, speaks of covenant loyalty.  Deeper than the feelings one has toward their beloved, is the all-out, never failing commitment made to them.  It is the motive behind doing good, forgiving, sticking it out when love is not reciprocated or when a spouse has become a liability in some way.

The Hebrew word here is often used to describe the gracious motivation behind God’s covenants with sinners.  All such covenants are started by grace and sustained by grace.

“Mercy” shows tenderness and compassion to those who are weak, needy, or afflicted.  The Hebrew is rahamim, recalling the daughter’s name which comes from the same root.  Remember Lo Ruhammah, “no mercy”?

God will show mercy to Israel, and that mercy will turn her into Ruhammah, “mercied.”

It is a word that expresses the deep feelings of a mother for her child, the turning over of the stomach when we see disaster and tragedy, or someone else’s pain.

To remove any doubts from Israel’s mind, Yahweh crowns the whole by a gracious assurance that His engagement and thus His future marriage, would be “faithfully” performed.  This word conveys Yahweh’s utter dependability, the reliability of His character, meaning that one can count on His promises to be fulfilled.

Other faults, lack of other qualities, may put a marriage under strain, but this one is decisive.  When it is missing, the marriage dissolves.  Of course, God had been faithful all along, but in promising it again, it invokes assurance to faithless Israel of Yahweh’s commitment to them, but also promises to create this quality in them.

When Israel has received the full impact of experiencing these attributes in God’s dealings with them, they will “know the Lord.”  This reverses “me she forgot” back in v.  13.  This is one of the crowning promises of the New Covenant (Jere. 31:34).  This is not only a promise that God will reveal himself to them more fully than ever, but that he will give them a heart to know him; they shall know him in another manner.  They shall all be taught of God to know him.”

Though “to know” can be used to express the intimacy of marriage, as in Genesis 4:1, here it means that Israel will make the appropriate response to Yahweh’s overtures by committing herself just as fervently and faithfully in terms of covenant love as he has.  The verb “to know” in v. 20 is as climactic as it is in 6:3, where it is the end result of returning to Yahweh.

Knowledge of God, knowing God, is obviously very important in the book of Hosea.

When Jesus prayed for His disciples in the garden, he said,

3 And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.

Knowing God in Christ, that deep intimate knowledge which comes from relatedness, that is the essence of eternal life.

But more vital than that is God’s knowing us.  That is what, according to Paul, is the key factor in our salvation.  To the Galatians, in chapter 4 verse 9, speaking of their conversion to Christ,

9 But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God,

Again, J. I. Packer, in Knowing God, a book I would recommend you all to read, in addition to The Knowledge of the Holy by A. W. Tozer, Packer says…

What matters supremely, therefore, is not, in the last analysis, the fact that I know God, but the larger fact which underlies it—the fact that he knows me.

I am graven on the palms of his hands [Isa. 49:16].

I am never out of his mind.

All my knowledge of him depends on his sustained initiative in knowing me.

I know him because he first knew me, and continues to know me.

He knows me as a friend, one who loves me; and there is no moment when his eye is off me, or his attention distracted from me, and no moment, therefore, when his care falters.

This is momentous knowledge.

There is unspeakable comfort—the sort of comfort that energizes, be it said, not enervates—in knowing that God is constantly taking knowledge of me in love and watching over me for my good.

There is tremendous relief in knowing that his love to me is utterly realistic, based at every point on prior knowledge of the worst about me, so that no discovery now can disillusion him about me, in the way I am so often disillusioned about myself, and quench his determination to bless me. (Knowing God, pp. 41-42)

Remember what Jesus said, to some apparently religious people, who were doing some amazing things in ministry…

“On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’  And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” (Matt. 7:22–23)

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Lamar Austin

I've graduated from Citadel Bible College in Ozark, Arkansas, with a B. A. Then got my M. Div. and Th. M. at Capital Bible Seminary in Lanham, MD. I finished with a D. Min. degree from Dallas Theological Seminary, but keep on learning. I pastored at Chinese Christian Church of Greater Washington, D. C., was on staff at East Evangelical Free Church in Wichita, KS, tried to plant an EFC in Little Rock, before moving back home to Mena, where I now pastor my home church, Grace Bible Church

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